Thursday night’s game will come against those barbarians from the North, The Minnesota Vikings. I always liked the Vikings as a kid, not the team, but the historical Vikings. The guys who scandalized and vandalized Western Europe before they were Christianized, homogenized and romanticized.
Anyway, SB Nation’s Vikings blog the Daily Norseman is run by Gonzo, so I asked him 5 Questions about the team this year.
Blogging The Boys: Last year's starting QB Brad Johnson has signed with Dallas to be our backup. So how is the new guy Tarvaris Jackson looking so far? I also see you recently acquired Kelly Holcomb. What's the QB situation for the Vikes?
Daily Norseman: I'm a big fan of Tarvaris Jackson, and to this point I'm relatively pleased with his performance. He's been getting the ball out quickly, hasn't made a lot of bad decisions, and has only one turnover in 12 drives thus far. I expect Brad Childress' offense this season to focus very heavily on the run, and for good reason. . .but Jackson has made some pretty impressive strides since we last saw him take the field, in my opinion, and I hope that it can carry on to the regular season. As far as the Holcomb signing, I like it a lot. Brooks Bollinger has been horrific this off-season, and doesn't look like anything even remotely resembling a #2 option if Jackson should get injured. Holcomb, while not spectacular, is certainly an upgrade at the back-up spot over Bollinger. Bollinger will likely stay on as the #3 guy. The key is that the Vikings aren't going to ask their quarterbacks to win games in 2007. . .they'll leave that up to the running game and the defense. The coaching staff will just simply ask that they don't lose games for them like we saw so many times last year.
BTB: You had Chester Taylor last year, now you added rookie RB Adrian Peterson to the mix. Who will start and what will their roles be on the team?
DN: Peterson is going to be the guy sooner rather than later, but for now there's going to be a lot of the dreaded "backfield by committee" look that fantasy owners hate so much. Brad Childress has said that there will be situations where Taylor and Peterson will be on the field together this year, but we've yet to see that in pre-season. I know I'm quite excited to see it happen. Taylor and Peterson are really our two best offensive weapons at the moment, and having them both out on the field would cause problems for opposing defenses. As far as handling the rushing workload for now, I'd expect their carries to be about even for at least the first part of the season, with Peterson gradually taking more of a lead role and Taylor settling into a background/change of pace type of role as the season progresses.
BTB: Will your starters play any in this game? What battles for roster spots will be going on for the Vikes in this game?
DN: I've read that the starters are going to play one series. I realize that's standard practice for the last game of the pre-season, but with all the youth we currently have on offense. . .particularly at the QB and WR positions. . .it wouldn't sadden me to see them get more time. As far as positional battles, the biggest ones we have remaining appear to be at right guard, where Artis Hicks and Anthony Herrera are battling for the #1 spot, and at the wide receiver position. With the recent signing of Robert Ferguson, the receiver depth chart appears to be in a bit of flux. Troy Williamson, Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, Robert Ferguson, and Aundrae Allison are locks to make the roster, in my opinion. That leaves a bunch of guys battling it out for one roster spot, and it will be interesting to see who ends up with it. My personal choice would be Martin Nance, a second-year youngster who was Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target at Miami of Ohio, but I think Brad Childress might be a bit more partial to Billy McMullen, who the Vikings traded for during the 2006 off-season. Outside of that, it looks like all of our starting positions are set.
BTB: How has the preseason gone for Minnesota? The injury situation? What are the expectations of the team and the fans now that preseason is almost over.
DN: The pre-season has gone okay, I'd have to say. Nothing really out of the ordinary. The injury situation has actually been pretty good to us at this point, and hopefully it will remain that way. DE Erasmus James saw his first action of the year coming off of the PuP list, and is still somewhat recovering from the torn knee ligament he suffered last season. The biggest injury suffered by the Vikings since training camp started, in my opinion, came in the first pre-season game when Rufus Alexander, our 6th round pick out of Oklahoma in the most recent draft, tore his ACL covering a kickoff against the Rams. The coaches had been talking him up as being a key contributor on special teams this season, but he's on IR now instead.
As far as the expectations at this point, I think a lot of Vikings fans. . .myself included. . .are cautiously optimistic. It's hard to get too optimistic because, as much as I like Tarvaris Jackson to this point, he's still a really unknown quantity. With the way the team is currently constructed, we can be pretty sure that the running game is going to be there, we can be relatively sure that teams will have a hard time running the football, and we can be relatively sure that turnovers will be created. It's the passing game that's the big question mark at this point. I think this team is capable of going 10-6. . .unfortunately, I also think they're capable of going 4-12. Then again, you can say that about the majority of the teams in the NFL today with parity being what it is.
BTB: Which guys have stood out on defense so far? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your defense?
DN: There have been a couple of guys that have stood out on defense to this point, one of whom is a rookie, and one of whom is virtually a rookie. The actual rookie would be CB Marcus McCauley, our third round pick out of Fresno State. He's been all over the field in practice, and has looked solid in the pre-season games with the exception of one play against Seattle. You'll see him in the nickel role by the time Week 1 rolls around. The virtual rookie would be LB Chad Greenway, who is back and healthy after tearing an ACL in the 2006 pre-season opener. He's looked good in coverage, including returning an interception for a TD against the Jets a couple of weeks ago, and has shown all of the speed the Vikings were hoping for when they draft him in the first round last year. A couple of others to mention are DE Brian Robison, our fourth-round pick out of Texas, and Ray Edwards, another defensive end. Robison has been living in the opposing backfield in his time on the field, and could make a fine situational pass rusher for us.
The strength of the defense would have to be the law firm of Williams and Williams in the middle of the line. They, in my humble opinion, form the best defensive tackle duo in the National Football League, and are the cornerstones that the defense is built around. In the secondary, we've got a couple of good, physical corners in Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, and a couple of ballhawks at safety in Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith. The key to this year's defense is going to be the pass rush. It was pretty abysmal last year, and needs to improve this season if the Vikings hope to be competitive. Another key will be E.J. Henderson's move back to the MLB position. He had a monster year last year on the outside, and is moving back to the middle with the departure of Napoleon Harris. I think E.J. will have little problem making the adjustment. He struggled at the position as a second-year player, but this is his fifth year in the league now, and he's a better, smarter player than he was back then.